Washington state border inspection station no longer locks drivers in room

By Charlie Morasch, Land Line staff writer | 1/3/2012

Brian Waterhouse didn’t like the feeling of being locked into a room.

After being directed to an inspection site about 2 miles from the U.S.-Canada border in Blaine, WA, Waterhouse turned over the keys of his truck and was led to a relatively small room. 

Security was preparing to lock the door behind him, but Waterhouse objected.

“I said, ‘I’m claustrophobic,’” Waterhouse told Land Line Magazine. The guard hesitated to break the rules, but relented, allowing Waterhouse to stay out in the hall. 

Truck drivers visiting a new Customs and Border Protection facility in Blaine this year may have been surprised by the degree of security they encountered before crossing the border.

At a CBP-run facility owned by Mercer Distribution Services, the procedure was to lock drivers into a room while the truck and cargo were inspected. If they had to use the restroom, they were let out of the room by security.

Waterhouse can still picture the door and deadbolt that locked from the outside.

“It’s not a real good feeling knowing someone’s locking you in some place when you haven’t done anything.”

The locking policy has apparently changed since, but one truck driver was so infuriated by his treatment that he quit his Pacific Northwest region trucking job.

OOIDA member Wesley Eldred said one of his drivers was locked into the room at Mercer for nearly three hours in early December. The driver was so incensed afterward he quit Wesley’s company, Eldred Brothers Farms LLC, of Bellingham, WA, and didn’t return phone calls to the company or to Land Line Magazine.

Thomas Schreiber, a spokesman with U.S. Customs and Border Protection, said the Mercer cross-dock facility opened in June and is run by a private company operating as a contractor.

The new facility replaced an old inspection station located at the border.

The Mercer facility is not connected to Mercer Transportation in Kentucky.

Schreiber said Monday that drivers are no longer locked into a room – a change made after CBP apparently made a recent change to its inspection procedure.

“We have revised the issue of securing drivers during offloads,” Schreiber said.

Schreiber said a port-a-potty is located in the station’s parking lot, but a permanent bathroom inside the facility is also “available for use by all persons.”

Responding to whether drivers had been held for as long as three hours, Schreiber said CBP realizes time is a valuable commodity for drivers but must meet the agency’s cargo inspection standards.

“A 100 percent offload and thorough inspection of a commercial conveyance may very well take a couple of hours depending on the size of the load, commodity, packaging or palletizing,” Schreiber said. “In some cases other specialists (agriculture) or agencies may have an interest in the commodities as well.”

Eldred sided with his drivers, saying the federal government should recognize U.S. citizens’ rights.

“This is 100 percent wrong is what it is,” Eldred said. “We don’t mind going in for inspection and being treated like a human being, but to be treated like a criminal ...”

Eldred wanted truckers to know the truth about the door-locking policy and called Land Line Magazine to speak out.

“Some of the drivers are a little bit afraid to bring this up. They’re crossing the border and won’t bring it up.”

Reached Tuesday, Eldred confirmed that CBP changed the door-locking policy, but didn’t have time to offer additional thoughts as he drove into Canada.

“Yeah, they took the lock off the door,” Eldred said.

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